Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hyde and Freak

Who is this guy?

He looks like me. He sounds like me, lives in the same place and works at the same office as I do. But he sure is one furious son-of-a-bitch.

Too bad he won’t go away.

I’m finally recovering from yet another nasty virus that has been hanging around my neck for three tortuous weeks.

Between the horrendous weather and my poor physical condition the second month of 2014 has been so bad I've renamed it "Fuck-You-Already."

It’s the usual scenario: my body temperature drops, my stomach rumbles like a dormant volcano coming to life and my energy sinks into the negative numbers.

This is part of the chronic fatigue problem that I’ve been having for many years now and I thought I was getting better at controlling my emotions, but apparently not.

I started off fairly calmly, taking a few days off from work to rest and watch a lot of bad TV. I was feeling better by Week Two and told myself that I was over the worst of it.

But I went into Week Three still feeling hideous and the anger took over. I couldn’t stay calm. Negativity flooded through my brain with the usual ridiculous, self-destructive ideas: why does this always happen to me? I’m never going get well. I’ve going to different doctors, taking all kinds of vitamins and nothing has helped.

What's even more frustrating is that two of the best things for depression is exercising and socializing. And thanks to this misery I can't do either. I get so upset I feel like ripping the pages from a calendar to mark off all the time I've lost.

Last week I dragged myself over to Manhattan with my sister so we could take our auntie out for her birthday. While we wandered through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my mind was churning out buckets of venom.

I had to stop at one point and mentally grab myself by the lapels for a rigorous reality check.

Where are you?

In the Met.

Physically, yes. But your thoughts are neck deep in a swamp full of hate.

Crashing Through the Snow

On President’s Day I staggered up to my chiropractor’s office, so filled with rage that the heat from my thoughts could have melted the mounds of snow that still covered the sidewalks.

My trip to the local laundry was even worse as I struggled to get my shopping cart through the ice and muck.

I hit one snag too many, lost my temper, and roughly plowed forward—only to find out later that I had broken one of the cart's plastic wheels. And I just bought this damn thing a short time ago.

I had been improving with the anger management but illness knocks me flat. It seems that my coping skills are effective except when I need them the most.

I am addicted to rage. I look for ways to get angry the way a junkie desperately hunts down a fix.

I don’t like saying that, but the first step in breaking free of any addiction is admitting that you have one.

There will always be plenty of things around to piss me off—from episodes in my past to what might or might not happen in the future.

One of the things I would like to do is separate my sense of self-worth from my physical health. Hating myself for being sick isn’t going to make me any healthier. It’ll only delay the healing process.

I’ve scheduled an appointment with a nutritionist in a couple of weeks and I just signed up for an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the Interdepenence Project in Manhattan. It starts next month and I’m hoping it can make a difference in how I look at the world.

And I've adopted a new viewpoint that I call DNA, which alternately stands for "Dynamic New Attitude" or "Don't Need Anger."

My shopping cart rolls roughly now, thanks to my last tantrum, but it still moves along. And so am I.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Welcome Back

I ran into an old friend last week and it was so nice to see him.

He was an older gentleman who used to hang around a candy story in my neighborhood and he came walking out of the wilderness of my memory after an absence of nearly 35 years.

I never knew his name, where he lived, or what he did for a living. And I don’t know whatever happened to him, though I’m pretty sure that after all this time he’s probably gone to his reward.

All I know is that I was his buddy and that when he was around I was the most important guy in town.

I can picture him very easily, even after all this time, a stocky man with a ruddy complexion, gray hair, and a smile you could see from two blocks away. And I can still hear his voice.

“Hey, buddy,” he’d say whenever I ran into him. “How’s it going?”

I was in my early 20s when I first met him, just out of school with a head full of dreams about all the great things I was going to accomplish with my life and absolutely no idea how I was going to do it.

I was shy, a bit socially awkward, and more than a little too eager to be liked. There are plenty of people willing to take advantage of someone like that, but this man was different.

Whenever I walked into that tiny, hopelessly cluttered candy store, he’d make a big fuss, greeting me as if I had been just returned from overseas. He’d step aside, made sure I got waited on, and send me on my way with a heartfelt “take care.”

I ran into him one morning at the foot of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge as I was watching Sidney Lumet’s crew shoot a scene from Prince of the City.

There I was, a nobody, a wannabe movie director, watching the pros work their magic from the wrong side of the barricades.

Star Power

And then my friend came walking up the bike path.

“Hey, buddy, what’s going on?” he asked.

“They’re shooting a movie.”

“Oh, yeah?” he said, all excited. “Gee, isn’t amazing what they can do in the movies?”

“It sure is.”

And then he was on his way, but in those few moments the barricades disappeared briefly and I became a somebody.

It felt a little strange having someone in my father’s age bracket treating me like an equal. To this day there’s a dark part of me that wonders why he was so nice—instead of just accepting his friendship as the rare, beautiful gift that it was.

I know that there were no ulterior motives—he wasn’t trying to sell me anything or lure me into his basement so he could jump my tender bones.

Maybe he was a lonely man who never had children. Maybe I reminded him of a son he had lost. Or maybe he was just a decent, friendly man. There are a few of them around.

My buddy faded from my life slowly. The candy store closed, I didn’t see him around the neighborhood, and eventually I stopped thinking about him. Until last week.

I have to wonder why he made this return visit. I suppose this could’ve been just an aimless memory circling through my subconscious like Halley's Comet.

But it’s been a tough winter, with the lousy weather and a nagging virus making me angry, depressed and anxious. So perhaps I needed to see the kind of friend that you can’t find on Facebook.

He’s also reminding me about the importance of being kind to people who really need it. Whatever the reason, it’s good to have him back.

Hey, buddy, how’s it going?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Watching the Skies

This was too good to be true.

I was in a Park Slope bar on a recent Saturday night speaking with a young woman about science fiction movies.

We covered some of the modern flicks, like The Hunger Games, and then I brought up my favorite sci-fi epic of all time.

“Have you ever seen The Thing?” I asked, referring to the 1951 masterpiece The Thing From Another World that has been scaring the screaming beejesus out of me since LBJ was in the White House.

My new friend rolled her eyes.

“Only about 20,000 times,” she said with mild exasperation.

I was overjoyed. I was starting to think that I was the only one who still enjoys this spooky tale of a murderous alien plant creature who goes on a bloodcurdling tear at an Artic outpost while a hardy handful of US Airmen try to torch his tuchas.

Everybody’s into the teeny-bopper vampire flicks and other such CGI chazerai, I constantly grumble. No one cares about the classics. But now here was a kindred spirit. Or so I thought.

My friend said her dad was a huge fan of the movie and would actually show it to any of the guys that she brought home.

“Wow,” I declared, “your dad sounds like my kind of guy!”

I was especially surprised because my father hated science fiction and horror flicks that way Count Dracula hated garlic and crucifixes.

“What are you watching?” he’d sneer if he saw us all—Mom included—gathered around the old Motorola. “The Creeping Snot from Planet X?”

Yes, Pop could sure turn a phrase, and no, there is no such movie by that name—though I’m thinking of writing one in my father’s honor.

Now this woman’s dad sounded mega-cool, but I slowly realized that she was fed up with that movie and really wanted to talk about something else. So I put a clamp on my inner film nerd and did something that heretofore I would have thought impossible.

I stopped talking about The Thing.

It’s still hard to believe that I actually heeded the maturity alert that was sounding in my brain and respected someone else’s feelings. But, brother, it sure wasn’t easy.

Eat Your Greens…Before They Eat You

James Arness, who would go on to play Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke for many a season, plays the eponymous creature, described by Scotty—a luckless reporter, not the engineer from Star Trek—as “an intellectual carrot.”

“The mind boggles,” the ink-stained wretch cannily observes.

What the man said. The mind boggles, the nerves tremble, and the whole body quivers as this vicious veggie takes on humanity in a battle for earth’s future.

Based on the short story “Who goes there” by John W. Campbell Jr., The Thing was officially directed by Christian Nyby, though some say producer Howard Hawks really helmed the picture, which features the same rapid-fire overlapping dialog that marked His Girl Friday and other Hawks films.

The special effects are primitive by today’s standards, of course, but the filmmaking is top notch and computer-free. And there’s actual suspense, as opposed to the gory dismemberment that you find in far too many modern horror films.

The movie has this claustrophobic feel to it as the heroes realize that they are trapped at the top of the world with a monster that is resistant to conventional weaponry.

Complicating matters even further is Dr. Carrington, the genius who wants to “learn” from the homicidal invader, while the good old American Joes just want to destroy the big bastard and his Satanic seedlings.

As a kid I always found this character to be so annoying and dense to the point of being unrealistic.

However, upon my last viewing, I’ve come to see Carrington as a kind of monster himself as he admiringly notes that the creature’s “development was not handicapped by emotional or sexual factors.”
“Knowledge is more important than life, Captain,” he says. “We've only one excuse for existing - to think, to find out, to learn.”

“What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?” Scotty asks.

My favorite scene has to be the head-to-toe hotfoot that the soldiers give the monster in an attempt to punch his alien ticket.

His presence sets off the Geiger counter and the tension is incredible as an airman reads off the increasing numbers until the door to a darkened room flies open and we see the creature in silhouette.

What follows has been described as the first full-body burn in film history and it is a four-alarm thrill ride. According to IMDB.com, stunt man Tom Steele had a supply of 100% oxygen and only luck prevented his lungs from burning.

There have been two remakes of this incredible film, but to be honest, I have about as much interest in seeing them as my father had in seeing The Creeping Snot from Planet X.

An arc of electricity saves humanity as Scotty tells the world, but in true Fifties paranoia, we know that this is only the beginning of the war for our planet’s safety, and that the price of interstellar freedom is eternal vigilance. The aliens, just like the Commies, will keep on coming.

“Watch the skies,” Scotty tells a waiting world, “everyone keep watching the skies.”

And I’ll keep watching this movie—every time it comes on TV.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Rope Trick

My high school gymnasium was so big it spanned three time zones and two climate systems.

All right, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but the place really was huge and it was filled with all sorts of old timey equipment like trampolines, pommel horses, and, hanging over by the windows, that dreaded piece of apparatus—the climbing ropes.

I hardly used any of this stuff because back then I wasn’t the least bit interested in anything athletic.

I hated team sports and I think I associated exercise with football and baseball, which still don’t interest me worth a damn. (And yes, I know it's Super Bowl Sunday.)

I climbed the ropes exactly once in my four years of high school and that was only because we were being tested.

I still remember how terrified I was as I raced up the rope, touched the metal support beam and climbed the hell back down, vowing never to go near those goddamn things for as long I lived.

I had no way of knowing that some 40-odd years later I would not only enjoy exercise, but I'd also get a thrill out of rope-climbing.

My rope-a-dope started horizontally with the battle ropes. This is nothing more than a thick rope evenly looped around any available post. You grab an end in each hand and start beating out a rhythm and making that rope come alive like an albino cobra.

Your arms get a great pump with the battle ropes and it's a tremendous workout for your core, which is vital to me as I am forbidden to do crunches due to my back misery.

I found a video on YouTube where a young man demonstrates no less than 23 different exercises with the battle ropes—and you never have to leave the ground.

I find it funny that even though my gym has all these exercise machines, I get a great workout from a simple rope. It’s even more fun than slamming the medicine ball.

Hand Over Hand

Now the gym at Reade Street where I do my morning workouts also happens to have a climbing rope hooked up in the exercise room. I had a high school flashback the first time I saw the thing dangling there and made every effort to avoid it.

But after a while I thought, what the hell? It’s nowhere near as high as the ropes in Brooklyn Tech and since I’m more athletic now, it shouldn’t be a problem.

It turned out to be a huge problem. Rope climbing is a son-of-a-bitch, to be perfectly honest, and I struggled to maintain my grip and control my terror of heights. Maybe climbing wasn’t for me.

But I didn’t want to give in to the fear or miss out on what I was sure was a fantastic workout. So I reined in my anxiety and started climbing.

There were a few rough spots. I was climbing one morning when I felt the rope swinging out of control. Desperate to right myself, I began singing to drive away the panic.

George, George, George of the Jungle, friend to you and me!” I wailed as I swung through the air.

I righted myself and worked up to a point where I could do two climbs per session. I was so proud of myself, but I figured I could never do more than two.

Then one morning a young woman in my boxing class saw me make my second ascent.

Now she had removed her t-shirt and was standing next to me wearing just a sports bra and, as I tried not to gawk, she said nonchalantly. “Do that again.”

Boom! I ninja-climbed that rope like I was being chased by a herd of rabid crocodiles. One of the guys in the class saw me streak toward heaven and started laughing, knowing full well that there’s no motivation for a middle-aged gym rat like a scantily clad young woman.

Who says you can’t teach an old horn dog new tricks?

And this woman did show me that I had more in the tank than I realized. And now I make three climbs per session with an eye on doing even more.

I really psyche myself up as I climb, shoving back the dread and the doubt as I go toward the top, so there’s a nice mental boost going on as well.

Be advised: rope climbing is an old school exercise and comes with its share of risks. I usually work to muscle fatigue, but if your muscles get fatigued on the ropes you’re liable to have a serious disagreement with gravity.

But if you have an inner Tarzan just itching to break free, I encourage you to tie one on.